Story: Powered water sports

Page 3. Water skiing

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Water skiing, invented in the United States in the early 1920s, was adopted in New Zealand by the late 1920s. Most water skiing is recreational, but there are a number of types of competitive skiing.

Water-skiing competitions

Water-skiing competitions consist of three events:

  • Slaloms, where skiers pass through a course with a gate at each end and turn around all of six turn buoys. The skiers start at their own chosen speed and rope length. After each pass through the course the boat speed is increased by 3 kilometres per hour, up to 55 kilometres per hour for women and 58 kilometres per hour for men. The rope length is also shortened with each pass. Points are scored for each successful pass.
  • Tricks, where skiers perform a series of flips and spins. These are carried out over two 20-second passes. Maximum points are scored by blending speed, agility and trick difficulty.
  • The jump, where the skier gets three attempts to jump as far as possible from a ski ramp.

New Zealand sends a water-ski team to the Asian Australasian and Oceania Waterski Championships, which are held every two years.

Barefoot skiing

Barefoot skiing is done without the use of skis. To hold the skier upright boats travel at higher speeds than for conventional water skiing. Barefoot competitions consist of slaloms, tricks and jumps, as in standard water-skiing competitions. At the 2012 World Barefoot Championships in Texas 16-year-old New Zealander Georgia Groen became world champion at women’s tricks and won a silver medal in the jump.

Water-ski drag racing

In water-ski drag racing skiers race on a single ski designed for high speeds. Water-ski drag racing is a minor sport in New Zealand, but is very popular in Australia and the US. Boats may tow a single skier each, while in a ‘two up’ each boat tows two skiers. Races may be on rivers, lakes or in the ocean. Circuit races involve laps, while river races usually go between particular points and then back again. In New Zealand the most significant race is the annual Bridge to Bridge Water Ski Classic, which has been held on the Waikato River since 1984.


In wakeboarding the rider stands on a wakeboard, a very short broad waterski, while being towed by a power boat. The rider uses the wake created by the power boat as a ramp for jumps and aerial tricks. In competitions wakeboarders are awarded points according to the skills and the degree of difficulty involved in their tricks.

How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Powered water sports - Water skiing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 July 2024)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 5 Sep 2013